Monday, December 30, 2013

To 2014 and Beyond...

I've never been one for New Year's resolutions. The road to hell, good intentions, blah, blah, blah. But this year, I'm determined to stick to a few. 

Not many, mind you. I've got commitment issues...

After talking to a bunch of friends this weekend, we decided to make a pact. Stick to a few simple guidelines, and we'll have an awesome (and productive) 2014!

1.  Write every day.
One or two lines. A paragraph. Edit a page or two. Work on a blurb. Sketch out an outline. Just, do SOMETHING. Chances are, once you start (because, let's face it, that's the hardest part) it will be like flying down an icy hill with no brakes.

2.  Read

Duh. Come on. If you're not reading, then how are you writing!? There's inspiration in everything, and what could be more inspirational than feeding your mind with all kinds of fiction? I was guilty of this in 2013. My schedule was insane, and my TBR pile kind of got away from me, but I'm in the process of fixing that right now!

3.  Screw the rules

The bad little influence that I am wants to tell you that rules are really just guidelines. Think of them as the guardrail along that crazy drop beside the interstate of life. Well, most of them. I think there's probably a rule about snuggling up to a starving polar bear. That one you should probably take to heart. But the writing ones? Sometimes it's good to break a rule or two. Follow your voice. Be true to your characters. Screw the rules. The world won't end, so stop stressing over it.

4.  Connect with other writers.
This is the thing I'm personally most guilty of. I've always been a loner. Super shy in most social situations, and instead of trying to join in, I tend to hover on the fringe, away from all the action. I'm socially awkward and afraid of opening my mouth if fear that something epically stupid will fall out. I'm quirky and strange and sometimes suffer from trucker mouth. But you know what? Who gives a crap? Writers are generally all strange/insecure/colorful/shy/ect. We need to be sticking together, yo! Safety in numbers and all that jazz.

So what about you guys? Any guidelines for 2014?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

And the winner is...

The winner of the query critique giveaway by Manuscript Critique Services is Ann Finkelstein! Congrats, Ann! Look for an e-mail from me with instructions! And thanks again to the great team at Manuscript Critique Services!

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Recently I sat down to chat with some pretty amazing traditionally published YA authors who have set up a freelance editing service, Manuscript Critique Services. They offer a wide range of services, from query critiques to partial and full manuscript critiques. Now, they only work with Middle Grade, Young Adult, and New Adult manuscripts, but if that describes your manuscript, be sure to read on for a chance to win a FREE QUERY CRITIQUE. And as if that isn't enough, you'll also find out how you can win some awesome YA books (and maybe even a Kindle).

 But before we get to all that, let me introduce the Manuscript Critique Services team: Jessica Spotswood (Born Wicked), Paula Stokes (Venom), Tara Kelly (Harmonic Feedback), and Elizabeth Richards (Black City). Here's what these ladies had to say:

What brought you all together?

I guess that was me, which is funny because I'm usually the girl who dreams huge but never quite finds the time to put her plans in motion. Actually, that's kind of how it happened. I know Tara because we are agent-sisters and I know Jess and Liz from the Breathless Reads tour (where I toured as Fiona Paul). I had talked about freelance editing with all of them individually and then after I had two books out I said something like "Hey, maybe we should all get together and do this sometime." And before I knew it, Tara was offering up advice on terms and services, Liz was building a website, and Jess was networking with industry contacts. Me, I was flailing to stay caught up! We really fit well together because we each bring our own editing-related experiences to the table, and we all read widely while gravitating toward different types of stories.

What was your vision behind forming MCS?

Jessica: I am so grateful to writers ahead of me on the publication path who reached back with advice every step of the way. It's really important to me to give back. All four of us feel that way. Yes, MCS charges a fee, but we're not in this for the money. We know what it feels like to strive and struggle to reach that dream of getting a book published. We know how hard it can be to look at a manuscript with objective eyes when you've been slaving over it for months or even years. We want to take the knowledge we've gained ourselves over many years and books and pay it forward.

Paula: I know there are authors out there who think we have no business trying to help other writers get published until we've put out five or ten or whatever number of books, and I understand why they feel like that. But for me, MCS isn't just about "helping people get published." If it was, we'd be "book doctors" doing heavy edits and rewrites of our clients' work. That's not usually a very rewarding experience for either party. Like Jess, I view freelance editing as a chance to give back to the writing community. I go into every editing project thinking "How can I help this person elevate his or her craft?" Whether you go from fair to good or from great to publishable, if you walk away from MCS feeling like you're a better writer, then that's one for the win column.

Please share a writing tip.


Tara: Read your writing out loud. If you trip over your words, it's likely that readers will too. Consider rewriting any lines that don't flow right off the tongue. Reading a scene out loud is also a great way to check your dialogue. Does it flow? Does it sound natural? If not, you'll notice right away!

Elizabeth: Have a cliffhanger or reveal on page five of your manuscript, because agents will often ask you to submit the first five pages of your MS along with your query letter. So it’s a great way to encourage them to request the rest of the manuscript, to find out what happens next! Speaking of writing tips, we’ve actually started a new blog series, MCS Minute Masterclass, where each Friday we share a quick writing or editing tip, to help you improve your writing in 60 seconds. So do pop along and check it out, when you next get a spare minute! Also, if there's anything in particular you want help with, just tweet your question to @MS_Critiques and we'll answer it.

Please share a piece of marketing advice.

Jessica: Social media is a conversation, not a microphone. It's fine to share your own news, but - just like in real life, presumably - don't make it all about you! Celebrate friends' good news, commiserate about the ups and downs of writing, share helpful or funny links, chat about your favorite TV show or that cute thing your cat (or kid) did or what you're reading. Respond to @ messages as much as you can. Social media is one way to promote your work, but it's also - and maybe more importantly - a way to make friends and share pieces of yourself with potential readers.

Paula: Figure out which marketing activities you truly enjoy and focus your efforts around those. It's better to have only an active and engaging twitter account than to have blogger, tumbr, twitter, facebook, pinterest, and instragram accounts that you never update. A bad social media presence is worse than no presence at all. This works for offline things too. I have terrible stage fright so if I were to do solo events I would be miserable and anyone watching me would be bored to death. Instead of letting my fear keep me from promoting, I do special things online like twitter parties or epic blog contests, and then try to put together multi-author bookstore events that are more fun and less scary for me. Never forget that other authors are your allies, not your competition.

What is a common mistake you see in queries/manuscripts?

Tara: Opening the story with a meaningless action scene. You know, some random character is running away from someone or something. There's a lot of breathing, gasping, and heart racing going on. But we don't know who this person is or why they're running like a MOFO. So, why should we care? That's the tricky part. Readers have to connect with your characters, on some level, to be invested in what is happening. So, even if your MC is being chased by a 9-foot demonic chipmunk, their personality should be shining through from that first line. Don't waste your first paragraph telling us about the effects of adrenaline. Tell us what they're thinking in that moment. Maybe it's about getting away…or maybe it's about how they wished they'd remembered to brush their teeth that morning. Because who wants to die with smelly breath? Use your imagination here--but give us something to react to or connect to.

Elizabeth: A common mistake we often see in queries are pitch paragraphs that are too vague and don’t specify what the main conflicts are in the story. So before writing your query letter, make a list stating what your character’s action goal is; what their emotional goal is; and what conflicts stand in their way to prevent these things from happening. This is what your story boils down to and what you should base your pitch paragraphs on.

What has been one of your favorite moments in your writing journey?

Jessica: Going on the Breathless Reads tours! It was amazing to meet readers. And I made some incredible friends. Andrea, Marie, Beth, and I really bonded on my first tour and now we go on annual writing retreats. Paula and Liz and I email all the time about the ups and downs of the writing process - plus we started MCS! I feel so lucky to have been part of that campaign.

Elizabeth: Going on the Breathless Reads tour with Paula and Jess! It was so much fun.

AND THAT'S A WRAP! NOW FOR THE CONTEST! You can enter for a chance to win the QUERY CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY (Middle grade, young adult, new adult only; must be used by June 21, 2014) graciously provided by Manuscript Critique Services by commenting below (being sure to leave a way for us to contact you if you win!) or by sending an e-mail to me via my contact page. DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES: Friday, December 27 at midnight! One randomly selected commenter will win!
You may remember at the beginning of this post that I also hinted at a chance to win some great YA books (Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, Send me a sign by Tiffany Schmidt, What She Left Behind by yours truly) and maybe even a Kindle...well, to find out how, visit A.C. Gaughen's blog!


Sunday, December 8, 2013

My Writing Process

I'm currently in the middle of a new manuscript and I've officially hit the "I suck" portion of my manuscript.

What is the "I suck" portion of the manuscript you ask? It's when the excited newness of the idea wears off and my characters have decided to clue me in that they never had any intention of going along with what I had planned for the plot.

Like none.

These new characters are being exceptionally cruel in cluing me into this. Almost like they are reveling in watching me bang my head against the desk as I near page 200 of the manuscript and I hit the realization that nothing I had thought was going to happen will.

Now, I have three books that have been published with one more planned for publication in May 2014. It's safe to say that I've written a few novels. You'd think that I'd be used to this happening to me by now (because it always does), but yet I have this eternal hope that my plans will always work out though they never do.

You'd also think that after writing several novels, I'd be able to trust my characters to tell their story without my intervention, yet I still find myself grieving.

Yes, you heard me right--grieving.

See, at the beginning of a story I am super excited for what I think is going to happen and when I discover what I wanted to have happen won't, I grieve what I thought the story was going to be.

It's my writing process. As much as it frustrates me, I'm glad this is what I go through. By letting my characters tell their stories I have produced Pushing the Limits, Dare You To, and Crash Into You. All stories I am very proud of.

After I go through that period of time where I learn to let go of what was, I end up embracing what the story will be and more often than not, I end up hitting my stride.

As a for instance, I originally thought Beth and Isaiah were going to end up together and I actually had written part of their story. It didn't take me until page 200 to realize that they would be better apart than together. Instead, it took me only a couple of chapters.

I totally grieved the loss of Isaiah and Beth together as a couple, but I love how their individual stories turned out. If I hadn't had written those couple of chapters of them together, I would have never learned some very important character issues and traits that ended up being in their individual stories.

This is a chapter I had written before I realized I needed to write Beth and Isaiah's stories separately and it taught me a ton. 

I used to be good. A young girl with flowing blond hair. Pigtails. Braids. Curls on occasion. Ribbons. I loved ribbons.
I used to smile. And laugh. I loved to laugh. I made people laugh. Good natured laughter. The type that makes you cry.
I had a friend. A best friend. I spent hours playing dolls at her house. A shy boy stole our first kiss in third grade and I wrote about it in my journal because I couldn’t tell my mom. She wouldn’t have cared, but that was okay. I didn’t have to talk to her or like her or be her. I could be anything but her…
I was someone likeable in elementary school before....
Before-Beth tortures me. Actually, she goes by Elisabeth. I hate her. More than anything. She sits beautiful and prim and proper as a child on the other side of the room while nurses and doctors race around my bed. She wears the dress I got from the clothes closet in second grade at a local church.
I loved that dress. Black velvet top. Short sleeved with white lace around the edges. A big white poofy skirt with lots of fluff and roses embroidered around it. Her beautiful golden hair is pulled up on the sides with ribbons.
I wore that dress every chance I could. To school. At home. Even to church. I went by myself because Mom never went. I liked church. Those were the days when church liked me.
Elisabeth shakes her head sadly and I see tears in her eyes and her pain makes my heart feel like it’s collapsing. She can’t be sad. Elisabeth was the only part of me that remembered happiness.
“We’re dying,” she says.
“I’m already dead.” I can barely mumble. The words slice my raw throat and fall apart in my dry mouth.
“You’re very much alive and we’re going to keep you that way,” says a woman with brown hair and blue scrubs as she pushes a strand of my black hair out of my face. She’s older than me. Maybe my mom’s age. A grown up and she has soft eyes. Kind eyes. “Welcome back.”
For the first time I hear beeping and realize they’re from machines. Several voices speak around me and I don’t understand the conversations. Fluids. CC’s.
“What’s your name?” asks the nurse.
“Elisabeth,” answers the small, cute blond in the corner chair.
“Beth,” I whisper.
“Which one?” The nurse wipes a cold wash cloth against my mouth. “Elisabeth or Beth?”
I don’t know.

What's your writing process? Are you like me and have to write quite a bit that you won't use to figure out what you will use? Do you plot then end up grieving when your story takes a different turn?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

#GivingTuesday, plus our book bounty giveaway!

Black Friday
Small Business Saturday
Cyber Monday
And a new tradition: 
#Giving Tuesday

Last year, a movement was born to kick off the holiday giving season. December 3, 2013 is #Giving Tuesday, an initiative that celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support non-profit organizations. 

Charitable solicitations abound, and it can be difficult to know who to trust and where to give.  Giving can be as simple as dropping coins in a can or donating a toy, but to have a bigger impact, it helps to do your research and determine a longer term plan.  Charity Navigator is one place to start.  For tips on giving, read their guide, and take some time to explore the rest of the site.  You’ll find more information such as:

Of the 6,800+ charities evaluated by Charity Navigator, the vast majority spend at least 75% of their budgets on the programs and services that they exist to provide, 10% or less on fundraising fees and 15% or less on administrative costs.

Prefer to give a hand up over a handout?
Microloans are another way you can have an impact. You choose an endeavor to support, you make a loan, you get updates on the progress, you get paid back, and you repeat the process again with a new project.  Kiva is a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty, and you can lend as little as $25. You can guess who created the Nerdfighters team on Kiva. “We loan because…we aim to decrease world suck.” 

Want to lend a hand?   
Volunteer Match helps individuals and groups find local non-profits who need your time. 

Charitable giving is something we tend to keep quiet about. 
HumblebragSo, you spent Saturday watching a Dr. Who marathon?  That sounds great.  My feet are killing me.  But at least I know hundreds of kids have a full belly due to my double shift at the food bank.

It doesn’t feel right to say, “Look what I did!” 
But the more people know about your efforts, the more likely they are to join you or support another cause that's important to them.  So please, shout out, so others can jump on board.  Here's one way to do it right now:

Leave a comment below and give a shout out to a charity/non-profit organization.  Everyone who leaves a comment by midnight on Saturday, Dec. 7th, will be entered in the YA Fusion book bounty giveaway.  On Sunday, Dec. 8th, I’ll randomly choose 5 winners.  The first name drawn will get the first choice of book, and so on. (If your email isn't on your Blogger profile, please include it with your comment.)

 Here are the books...


...and here’s my charity shout out: Ever wonder what the deal is with Ronald McDonald Charities?  I never thought I'd recommend anything associated with McDonalds, and it was a charity that I routinely dismissed until I started working as a social worker at Children’s Hospital in Detroit.

Ronald McDonald Houses are located at hospitals all around the country and provide a home-away-from-home so families can stay close to their hospitalized child.  The daughter of one of my friends had leukemia requiring hospitalization/treatment out of state for nearly a year.  Her mother was able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, set up her laptop and continue working, while remaining only steps away from her daughter.  Her dad and siblings were able to visit and stay on weekends.  Donations make it possible for families to stay for little ($10) or no cost. 

Cash donations aren’t the only way to help.  Volunteers are needed to provide home-cooked meals and baked goods.  To learn more and to find a Ronald McDonald House near you, go here.

The YA Fusion blog team is shouting out about their favorite charities in the comments.  Thanks for sharing your recommendations too, and remember to spread the word about #GivingTuesday.


Kristin Lenz